Players Reflect On Year Of Ups, Downs

There's no denying the Ohio State football program has gone through tremendous change in the past calendar year since the day Jim Tressel resigned. A number of Ohio State players took the time recently to look back at that fateful day a year ago and what has happened since then.

Urban Meyer is the Ohio State football coach.

Let that sink in for a moment. Six months later, it still seems a bit odd.

The journey to that point started one year ago today – May 30 – when Jim Tressel resigned from Ohio State after 10 years of winning and five months of scandal. His indiscretion was not reporting a tip from a Columbus-area lawyer that two of his players were receiving impermissible benefits by selling their OSU memorabilia; Tressel's failure to report that was an NCAA violation in and of itself. Eight months later, it was found that six OSU players had been receiving discounted tattoos and/or selling memorabilia, and Tressel still didn't tell NCAA investigators or top OSU officials what he knew about the initial tip until the info was found in an email search.

Whether that was a fireable offense – heck, whether that's exactly what happened – remains open for debate among fans and pundits. What is sure is that the day before Memorial Day 2011, Tressel was recalled to Columbus from vacation. After a conversation with athletic director Gene Smith, Tressel resigned the morning of May 30.

With that, 106 victories, eight BCS bowls, seven Big Ten titles, three national title game appearances and the 2002 national championship went out the door – the totals of 10 years of Tressel stewardship. Longtime assistant Luke Fickell was immediately named interim coach.

Some players admitted having nerves at the time about what would happen when everything eventually shook out.

"This time last year, yeah (I was worried), especially when Coach Tress resigned," senior Jacob Stoneburner said last week. "It was hard for a lot of guys around here. You guys all know Coach Tress. He was a great guy, and everyone liked him. To get fired or resign, however you want to put it, it was tough."

Offensive lineman Corey Linsley felt the same way about his now-former head coach, and he admitted that at the time, the unknown was what freaked him out the most. That's to be expected, especially given the way things always seemed the same from year to year under the staid, consistent Tressel.

"It was a whirlwind, I'm not going to lie," Linsley said. "It was kind of crazy. All of us were in shock because Coach Tress is such a great guy and we were all very sad, very hard. We weren't hurt by his decision but hurt because of the whole situation. He's a great coach. His record speaks for itself. I don't need to say anything about that.

"It was all up in the air. I think that was the first time in a long time we had been in that position – we haven't had a coaching change in the past decade, and before that it was a decade before that. So guys weren't really used to being in that situation."

Of course, in some ways, it got worse before it got better. Fickell steadied the ship and the team spoke of going into the 2011 season with extra motivation to silence the doubters around college football, but the youth on offense and a lack of depth and experience at key positions helped push the team to a 3-3 start.

A midseason turnaround buoyed by wins against ranked Illinois and Wisconsin teams put the Buckeyes in the drivers' seat when it came to the initial Big Ten Leaders Division title, but everything came to a head as the season closed with losses against Purdue, Penn State and Michigan for the first time in eight years.

The question of who would coach the Buckeyes in 2012 was debated all season, but speculation that Fickell would not return as head coach built until the coach finally showed frustration in the aftermath of the loss to the Wolverines.

Two days later, the announcement was made – Meyer would take over OSU after a year sabbatical from the coaching ranks.

Meyer was installed as one of the favorites to take over the OSU job upon Tressel's resignation, but it wasn't until the season-ending three-game losing streak that the talk intensified. Suddenly, Ohio State went from one of its worst seasons in recent memory to in the hands of a two-time national title winner at Florida and someone who has never gone through a losing season.

That fact is still hard to believe for some in the program.

"It's pretty crazy how it almost like it didn't happen," Stoneburner said. "I feel like Ohio State, we haven't played a season yet with Coach Meyer, but I feel like everybody is excited about the season again.

"Media around the country are wondering, what is Ohio State going to do with a new coach? How good are they going to be? For losing one of the great coaches at Ohio State ever a year ago, to be where we're at now, we're pretty fortunate."

Safety C.J. Barnett went as far as to use the word "lucky," one that isn't often thrown around when discussing a football program losing a legendary coach. But in a sense, it is the right word, as Ohio State was blessed to be looking for a coach when one of the recent greats was looking to get back in the game.

Ohio State likely would have ended up with a good coach anyway, but the recent hires at Miami, Michigan and Notre Dame have shown how quickly years of history and momentum can mean little when a regime change takes place.

Those in the program expect things to go well under the Ashtabula, Ohio, native.

"We're on the rise now," running back Jordan Hall said. "Coach Meyer came in with a real good plan, and the way they have stuff planned out from academics to lifting ot training table to all that, he knows what he's doing."

"It was a whirlwind but things have settled down," Linsley added. "It's part of life. Even though we love everybody on the old staff, you have to make the change and embrace and love this new coaching staff, which we all have. I think they're getting to love us, too."

It's too early to tell if Ohio State will be better off with Meyer than Tressel – that's hard to predict given everything the former coach accomplished – but it does appear that at the very least, the program is back on the right track.

That's just the way Linsley expected things to go.

"I don't think I was ever worried about Ohio State," Linsley said. "This is Ohio State. It's going to work itself out one way or another. We're going to get the best coach available. It just speaks for itself. But for myself, I was worried. I didn't know who my coach was going to be, how I was going to respond to that, if he was going to like me or not going to like me. I was worried about myself, but Ohio State, there was nothing really to worry about."

The cover story of the June print issue of Buckeye Sports Bulletin will include a look back at Tressel's legacy one year later that OSU fans will not want to miss. All yearly subscribers to receive a subscription to the paper.

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